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Steven Levin, MD, Sports Medicine at NorthShore, has been a team physician with the US Rugby Team for ten years, acting as their head physician during the Rugby World Cup in France in 2007. He has travelled with the team all over Canada, England, Wales, France and now Japan. He shares what it’s like to care for these daring athletes at the top of their game during a recent tournament in Japan.
We’re in Japan for the Pacific Cup, which includes teams like Canada and Tonga as well. We arrived in Nagoya, Japan after almost 20 hours of travel from Los Angeles. We played Tonga the night before we left LA and lost in a tough game 18-9. Luckily there were no major injuries on either side, although it looked like the Tongan team had several play stoppages for apparent injuries. In reality, it seemed as though the Tongans were mainly cramping up due to the physical game the US team played. Nonetheless we did lose a close game that we felt we were capable of winning.
Since I have been with USA Rugby I have gotten a bit of a reputation as a "rugby doc" and take care of many local and regional rugby players. I specialize in shoulders and knees and have operated on many of these players with shoulder and knee injuries. It is particularly rewarding to see so many get back in the game after recovering from surgery or rehab and then continue to play at such a high level.
During a game, the most common injuries that I see in rugby players are laceration, muscle, ligament and tendon strain, tears, concussions and occasionally fractures. There are no timeouts in rugby. As a physician I have to work fast, diagnose the problem and fix it quickly or the player must be substituted. If he is substituted then he can't return under the rules of the game, so there is a great deal of pressure to get the player back as quickly as possible if medically cleared. If the player has any type of bleeding injury, I have 10 minutes to get it under control (i.e. suture it) or the player is not allowed to return. It’s fast-paced and intense. But I enjoy it.
I also really enjoy the camaraderie I have with the players. Rugby players are the toughest, purest, and most appreciative athletes I have had the pleasure to work with and treat.